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Garrardzilla Rises

Quote\ I looked forward to TRULY gorgeous results... the most difficult task is keeping "that" Garrard feeling, NOT going on unknown paths... like creating a new freak, a Frankenstein: not looking for obtaining a wannabe Micro or a Verdier, actually;-)! All must be carefully balanced and cared for... new, bespoke plinth, spindle, platter, mat, stainless-steel springs set, intermediate idler-wheel... like in a recipe for a great dish, difficulties and expense and effort must not over-shadow or make redundant the final result... ALL must "click" together and sound easy and effortless... and, possibly, better - I mean MUCH better - than a stock Garrard 301;-))) A Garrardzilla. /Unquote

The above words are those of the man who produced the subject of this article. His name is Stefano Bertoncello. He lives in his native Northern Italy. His online moniker is Twogoodears. (abbr:TGE) and he has an audio blog of the same name. Here's a link: http://www.twogoodears.blogspot.com

Now we know why the name. To find out what Garrardzilla actually is and how it came into existence continue reading.

It was not without some small amount of surprise when I encountered a photo of it. The first glimpse of that photo caused me a double-take. A Garrard 301. That much was evident. It was mounted into a heavy plinth with a separate stand-apart arm pod....both pieces were finished in an automotive silver enamel. I've seen plinths with separate arm pods like these often enough before. Always high mass. The arm on top of the pod I hadn't seen before. Just looking, the effective length appears longer than what is typically seen in the 12 inch category. And the platter. I could identify its material as bare machined bronze. They certainly didn't come that way originally. Lathe-turned bronze, taller than stock, but of a diameter not much more than the original platter. The 301 aluminum chassis was finished in gray hammer-tone enamel and appeared flawless. Perhaps the chassis had had a re-paint, …...or at least that is what I thought.

Shindo came to mind. But the platter wasn't at all like anything I've seen by Shindo.

Those were my thoughts until I started looking for some facts. There was some text in accompaniment with the photo. That text told me something of what I wanted to know, but not enough to fully describe what it really and truly was that I was looking at.

I could certainly send TGE an email and just ask. Eventually I did. But I knew about the audio blog. Maybe I'll just search through the pages of his blog because he tends to document many of his projects there, I thought. And my plan became 1: research the blog, then 2: ask questions. And what I learned from the blog was quite a bit. In fact it supplies enough information to fully describe this rig mechanically and how it sounds to its owner's ear. Good info there.

Here's what I dug up:

  1. The cast alloy chassis isn't cast. It is cnc milled from a solid block of aluminum by Ray Clark.
  2. The bronze platter we see so prominently on top weighs 29.7 lbs. (13.5Kg)
  3. That blue platter mat up topside is a Shindo 800 grams leaded cloth mat.
  4. Under that platter is a spindle bearing that looks like its been taking regular doses of steroids
  5. Stock motor with new stainless steel isolation springs
  6. Slate plinth....massive slate, with stand-alone and also massive arm pod
  7. Tonearm: It is "The Peak" heavy mass 16-inch and was chosen specifically to work with a Japanese built Lumiere DST cartridge.

When I sent an email asking my questions his reply indicated that this project was A:a very personal search for musical satisfaction and B: Not a business. All the better I thought.

From what can be seen of its exterior, the above describes this beast in general terms. There is much more data on this particular project player.

The Bearing.

Shindo, Commonwealth, Westrex 12D*, Garrard 301, EMT 930st. Those spindle bearings were studied in detail prior to arriving at a design goal for this project. Classic Hi-Fi also produces a bearing upgrade for the Garrards 301and 401. Yet the goal for this project required a bearing suitable for supporting a load heavier than any platter offered by Classic Hi-Fi or Shindo. So this is what was made:

      

Above: On the left is the Garrardzilla bearing housing and shaft. On the right is a stock Garrard spindle bearing standing upright next to the Garrardzilla bearing. The difference between them is apparent. That difference being “Length”. The Garrardzilla bearing is 40mm longer than the stock part. Additionally, the spindle pin is longer to compensate for taller/thicker platter mats and also to work with different record clamps that might be used. A very limited batch of this design was produced with intent that no more will be made. A local machinist was chosen to produce these.

Both housing and spindle shaft are stainless steel.

From the blog: Quote/ ...my bearing uses a cool mix of exotic Kluber (made in Austria) super expensive lithium/molybdenum grease and compatible oil, making it a grease bearing design. This apparently silly, small choice makes a world of difference in sound... the rotation time-before-stopping decreased, but time isn't everything... the vibes control and taming in EVERY sensitive area IS the goal! /Unquote

*footnote: re: bearings opened while design of the Garrardzilla bearing was underway: TGE's comments about the 12D....Quote/ The bearings opened, studied and measured included Commonwealth/Westrex 12D - i.e. Commonwealth from Australia built the now sought after idler wheel turntable under Westrex patent...My own 12D is now residing in Berlin, in Thomas Schick's hands... after "things" are done, no need to stuff shelves and shelves of unused gear;-) /Unquote.

An Idler Wheel

Above: custom machined idler wheel for Garrardzilla. 

Material is stainless steel.  

Bushings are sintered bronze.  

Rectified O-ring

wt: 250 grams. 

 

 

The Platter:

    

Above: Custom platter in B19 bronze turned by a local machinist. There were a few of these produced. And then no more.

Quote\ ….precision and being heavy duty enough to be used with the 13,5 kilos platter… using bronze isn't by chance… stainless-steel or brass aren't giving same sound… I tried them and beside being cheaper and beautiful, shiny, their vibration frequencies aren't the same… bronze is darker, like live acoustic music is… and VERY dynamic and quick…/Unquote

Quote\ Every parameter of the several 301's strengths was GREATLY improved: impressively dynamic and smooth, surprising at every spinning... the added, improved mass and fly-wheel effect sure helps, supports and improves the spinning stability, both mechanically and aurally... the notes decay is of SELDOM heard beauty and quality... looooooong and extremely various, with a world of ever changing harmonics. As I leave platter running for hours and hours, never stopping its running but if I have to change speed for some - rare - 45 rpm discs, when I finished my listening session I finally gave off to the Garrardzilla;-) and, you won't believe... my hand light touch almost wasn't able to stop the spinning platter... an enormous apparent weight was felt by my fingers.../Unquote

One was coated heavily with white enamel, while leaving the underside bare. The other was left entirely bare. ( Editors note: 13.5 Kg is 29.7 lbs to us folks in North America! ) For reference The original Garrard 301 cast aluminum platter weighs 2.3Kg. The Classic Turntable Company's oversized bronze platter weighs 10Kg. The Shindo machined aluminum platter weighs 6.7 Kg. Garrardzilla: 13.5Kg.

TGE Quote\ Yes, the 13,5 kilos bronze platter is the heaviest around... BUT the bronze and silky careful ultra precise machining made THE difference vs. stainless steel and brass platters... shiny, but sonically lesser... as materials and their frequency resonances are paramount and weight alone isn't enough. /Unquote

B19_precise_sm.jpg (338856 bytes) checking machined platter for runout. (hint: to view full sized photo click on thumbnail)

At one point there came a question; Does stressing the standard Garrard 301 chassis with the additional weight of the bronze platter (13.5Kg), and the more massive bearing designed for it, have a positive or negative effect on the presentation being heard.  His observations: Quote/ The 12 kilos bronze platter used in the heavy duty, super-smooth giant spindle/bearing both inserted in stock 301's turntable add a brand-new feature to the whole: the added mass gives a "seen" at chassis level "virtual mass" where the flimsy thickness of original Garrard's alu alloy chassis get a stress due to weight........snip..........At molecular level, the centered almost five-times multiplied mass of new spindle and platter give about same results than a turntable whose chassis weights 10/12 kilos with - maybe - a better vibes taming character!........snip..............Having access to a laboratory quality gears using, say, photoelastic stress analysis techniques, all the above should be VERY visible and apparent and clear.......snip.......The sound, are you asking?!?... don't know, folks... the stressed structure of Garrardzilla sure gives "more" to music... it's clearer, truer, it's... "is".... and this counts./Unquote

Ultimately this question and observations lead to Classic Turntable Company for its 301 Solid chassis. This chassis offers greater rigidity than the original lighter cast chassis and thus is able to handle the greater loads encountered when using heavier platters and bearings.

Below: the CNC milled 301 chassis is offered by Classic Turntable Company, Classic Hi-Fi Shop in the UK and its director, Ray Clark.

   

   

 

The next pair of photos (above) are the subject 301of this article. The owners name and moniker, can be seen just below the serial number and date of manufacture in the last photo, above right.

http://www.classichifi-shop.co.uk/solid-chassis-301

http://www.classichifi-shop.co.uk/products-page/upgrades

What makes these cnc milled chassis more stout and more rigid than the original cast chassis can be seen from underneath. Lacking in ribs and valleys, the overall thickness of the Classic Hi-Fi 301 Solid is uniform and holds much more metal while maintaining the same outer dimensional envelope as stock. This results in a more rigid and heavier frame.

Above: underside of a Classic 301 solid milled chassis. (Photo taken at random from the net)

Above: underside of an original 301 cast chassis.

After the 301 mechanicals, (including Garrardzilla's oversized bearing and platter), were installed into the Classic Solid 301 chassis TGE gave his project a listen.  What follows are his comments.

TGE Quote/ ... (speechless mode)...It's all and more I remembered and missed for the last weeks, despite the truly superb Lenco's sonic footprint... the original, stressed 301's chassis is doing well, BUT the full optional Garrardzilla, including Ray's part and elegant, 401-like underside screws is a completely different beast... still more dynamic, with a resolution which only a bunch of us on the Planet experienced, period. No hypes... The notes decay with every instrument, solo or in a jazz quartet or trio is awesome... also if I only listened to three records, this morning... Sidsel Endresen's on ECM with those crazy shimmering cymbals and piano, Anthony Bailes' lute on EMI Reflexe for tiniest resolution and ambient retrival and Ludwig Streicher double bass and piano on Telefunken for explosive dynamics... all came soooo naturally and beatiful and quick and beefy and undistorted! /Unquote

TGE Quote\ Ray Clark's Solid Chassis is a BIG part in Garrardzilla's project... love its 401-style screws system, more elegant than stock 301's.... but the sound, THE SOUND is really awesome vs. stock chassis!/Unquote

Tonearm Choices

Looking at photos of the tonearm I made some visual assessments. These 'impressions' ranged from: I haven't seen this arm before..... and….It appears on the longer side of 12 inch effective length........and.......it looks heavy..........and........no anti-skate....and.......I wonder who made it, etc. Given that I was coming up with all questions and no answers I asked TGE the following question:

Q: (the analog dept) In my research of your project I noticed some components I haven't seen before; 1) The Peak Heavyweight tonearm and 2) the Lumiere DST cartridge. What I've learned about the Lumiere DST is that it is a reincarnation (of sorts) of the Neumann DST from many years past. The Lumiere has a similar coil configuration to that of the NeumannDST but with an entirely different suspension design. Its suspension design more closely resembles that of a mastering lathe cutter. (take a look at JVC Cutter) I presume The Peak heavy arm became necessary in order to make a better compliance match onto the Lumiere DST and its ultra-stiff suspension, and to better handle what must be significant spurious energy generated at the stylus-groove interface in this configuration.

A: TGE Quote/ The Peak, with the "The" it's sonically and to my ears, ahem... the peak in my arms stable, period. Consider the arm was conceived by myself and hand-built by my good friend and lathing & mechanic artist Mario, in Italy, painstakingly auditioning different bearings, Abec 7 and 9 and arm wands materials - i.e. two different thickness aluminium, titanium, stainless steel and brass tubes... the contenders were FR 66-S, Ortofon RMG 309i, James Grant's from New Zealand Cocobolo arm wand unipivot arm and Thomas Schick's... all 12" designs with different should, from smooth, forgiving, romantic sounding, to the quick responsiveness of the best... The Peak arm uses Panzerholz/bronze rear weight with two decoupling O-rings inside....this seldom seen solution has great sonic merits too. The Peak surpassed all the contenders!

The cartridge of choice remained the fussy Lumiere DST, the one and only to give me the zestiness I need vs. my own and played real instruments and live music experiences.

The Peak – thanks to its careful balance and building care in sensitive areas, like the heavy mass headshell SME screw-mount area - is able to play incredibly well, effortlessly and with a sense of rightness, the heaviest dynamic grooves with a seldom heard, if unique, aplomb... but without losing the finesse, the detailing and introspective character I always loved sooooo much! The Lumiere DST and its musicality - in use since 2005 - was completed when I found an N.O.S. Neumann DST white cartridge which sounded REALLY great despite its 50 years old vintage. /Unquote

TGE Quote\ The Peak wires are 60 years old vintage Litz wire from headshell to phono plugs...my good friend Lo who carefully made the twisting of the four Litzes spent about two days of annoying twisting.  Imagine twisting hairs to obtain 130 cm (35 cm inside the wire and 95 cm outside it)....a nightmare!!  You need patience and a Zen-like attitude....Lo is the most Zen guy I know!  Avoiding a signal interrupting in the cable using Litz of minute AWG is paramount. /Unquote

TGE Quote\ The VTA base of The Peak is an original Fidelity Research B-60, as used in my FR 66-S amd 64-S....having two and being that the above mentioned arms are unused now....I'm using with the Peak....very cool Gizmo. /Unquote 

The FR B-60 VTA base as it holds The Peak tonearm.

Lumiere DST

A NOS Neumann DST (white)

fyi, vtf settings: Lumiere DST: ~3.5grams.....Neumann DST: 5 to 6grams.

The plinth comes in two pieces. A main base, (45 Kg) and a separate arm pod (bronze, 25 Kg). The main base is solid slate coated in Jaguar Silver Grey enamel. The armpod is lathe-turned bronze and also coated in the Jaguar enamel. It stands its ground firmly planted by means of its considerable mass......and gravity.

      

Standing on a dedicated steel stand for the turntable, the slate plinth resides over another shelf of massive slate. The separate arm pods are lathe turned from solid B19 bronze. Each pod weighs 25 kg (55 lb). Properly footed, these aren't going to move. The advantage is very good mechanical isolation from the motor unit itself. With the separate pod arrangement it is possible to have more than one arm in use with the turntable simply by placing another pod with arm mounted in a suitable location around the plinth. There just needs to be enough free area about the turntable for the pod to stand.

Accessories.

For accessories we see it with a TT-weights Peripheral Ring (480 grams) and a 850 gram spindle clamp produced by TGE. In the above photo we can't see which mat is in use so I asked which platter mat was favored and got a response indicating that the 'Blue' leaded cloth 800 gram platter mat from Shindo, a Suede mat from Jean Hiraga , A Micro Seiki 2.8kg CU-180 mat are used alternatingly, depending on mood. That seems about right with my experience. How many of us, myself included, swap out platter mats just to hear the difference in presentation!

   Custom record clamp (TGE's design)    

Garrardzilla with Jean Hiraga Suede mat 

 Micro_CU.jpg (65423 bytes) Micro Seiki CU-180 mat on Garrardzilla. (hint; click on thumbnail to view image full size.

 

The Peripheral Ring:  In one blog post TGE reminisced how, for a time, he had tired of using the peripheral ring due to the repetitive efforts and ceremony involved in its use. And so the ring had gone unused for a period...... long enough for dust to accumulate about the peripheral ring at its assigned shelf space. Then the TTW peripheral ring was put back into use. He says the difference in sound, that is with ring -vs- without ring, had to do with an even lower noise floor, improved dynamics, richer textures and improved sense of effortless and liquid flow.

Conclusions:

Above photo: from behind the listening chair.

Above: Three of the components that make Garrardzilla what it is.

This ends the description of Garrardzilla and how it came into being. (article continues below)

Please note that TGE has asked me to state that duplicate parts made during this project have already been sold and that no more are scheduled to be made again. And now I add the following comments regarding where some of the 'prototype' parts went.

TGE Quote\ Thanks for pointing it out about the commercial unavailability of these bespoke parts... yet, I'm very, VERY proud that a handful of my prototypes are in use in very exotic audio systems of friends who wished to follow my vision... all these gents owned The Very Best gear available... and agreed (and still agree) about the uniqueness of a Garrardzilla combo. /Unquote

Postscript: The Garrardzilla project took place over a period of years dating from 2010. Many intermediate steps, and also some of the parts designed, built, tried and then not selected are not documented here. The intent has been to describe the finished product and to include descriptions of some parts that are worthy of mention.

Prior to beginning this project TGE had been using both a Shindo platter with matching bearing, a Shindo leaded cloth 800 gram mat After confirming the qualities of his Garrardzilla bearing and bronze platter, he chose to sell the aforementioned Shindo platter and its bearing. However the Shindo platter mat was retained.

Shindo parts_1_sm.jpg (294914 bytes)  Shindo plat_mat_top_sm.jpg (91553 bytes) Shindo platter, bearing and lead cloth mat. (hint: click on thumbnail to view full sized photo)

TGE noted that the machined aluminum Shindo platter was delivered painted on all surfaces, under and outer, and left with a slightly uneven surface for the idler wheel to turn against.  This is a detail TGE gave consideration to,  with the Garrardzilla B19 platter, and made certain that a true spinning bare metal surface of very fine surface roughness was present for the custom idler wheel to drive.  A critical area for any idler driven turntable.

One of the questions I asked was whether or not any dedicated power supply or speed control electronics were tried. His answer was that the stock Garrard motor and pitch control have been retained and he notes further that the motor seems well suited to the additional platter weight and sees no urgent reason to pursue any electronic motor control.

The EMT 930st. In the system pic. In the background is seen the EMT 930st standing within its seismic base on the component stand against the back wall. It might seem only logical to assume the superiority of the EMT over any other turntable in the room. However TGE sees (and hears) it differently.

In a blog post from December, 2011 he states the following:

Quote\ Swapping tables, arms and cartridges dramatically made me aware of the EMT's shortcomings... pleasant, smooth and "radiophonic", in the sense it always reminds me when - I learned it after years - the 930st was "the" radio workhorse... its sound was... is no spikes, no dips, let's say average sounding... a concept I already expressed several times:-)  

930st vs. 301 seems such a nice match... but unfortunately (not for yours truly...) it's a true lesson for myself my friends and everyone who doesn't believe that a table (and arm and cartridge) owns a soul: the music flows freely and effortless, light to the ears... never tiring... /Unquote

Other platter materials:

The B19 bronze platter was the final result of much testing. There were platters turned in stainless steel and aluminum.  But then Prior to the B19 platter  there had been a custom platter lathe turned from a rather large and expensive piece of Panzerholz multi-ply.

 

Above two photos: A Garrard 301 platter machined from Panzerholz. Outer surfaces coated heavily with enamel.

Stefano's comments on the sound using different platters from different materials:
Quote\ …...used Delignits Panzerholze 330 mm disc (expensive!) Took to local machinist to have turned to Garrard 301 dimensions. With bronze insert at center to improve precision and bearing matching. Painted outer surfaces. Inner surfaces, including the inner rim that engages the idler wheel were left bare.” “Incredibly a 13 kg bronze platter sounds quite similar to a 3.5 kg Panzerholze platter and both sound – you bet it – so different from original alu alloy platter, which seems to lack – after direct comparison – that slam, oomph and guts, and the greatly improved decay…. …The Delignit’s plywood detailing is less exagerated vs. bronze’s very “severe” incredible retrieval capabilities…. ,yet, acoustic instruments and classical string quartets, acoustic guitars and voices are amazing with Panzerholz./Unquote

By now the reader knows that the B19 bronze platter was the final choice. However the Panzerholz experiment is definitely interesting. Others have used this material in platter construction. Favorable comments seem to surround this material.

The intent of this article has been to look into the original thinking and imagination behind one very serious Garrard 301 project.  As stated at the outset, TGE's goal was to retain the essence of the original player while extending its abilities to venture into qualities of playback its original designer could not have imagined possible.  And the goal was to avoid turning itself into a thing that couldn't be identified by its sound as anything other than a Garrard 301.  To the ear, readily identifiable and yet far better.   This audio writer can only imagine that it was successful on all accounts.

END